Ferguson, William Owens
(1800-1828), army officer in the South American wars of
independence, was born in Ballinderry, County Antrim, the
eldest son of John Ferguson (d. 1845), from a family of linen
drapers in Belfast, and his wife Agnes, née Knox (d. 1861).
Their other children were John Ferguson (d. 1868), the poet,
antiquarian and president of Royal Irish Academy Samuel
Ferguson (1810-1886), Hester Ferguson, who married Archibald
Macelkeran, Mary Eliza Ferguson, who married John Cowan, and
Ellen Ferguson (d. 1841), who married William Haughton. The
family were descendants of Scottish Presbyterian immigrants
who settled in Ulster.
Ferguson's own account, in his formative years he was
'headstrong and difficult' (Journal). After getting into
financial difficulties, he was sent to South America on a
commission in Simón Bolívar's army in 1818.
short yet eventful life, William Ferguson stood out as an
intelligent and intrepid officer, and Simón Bolívar entrusted
him with important responsibilities. He joined the South
American army on 4 November 1818 as second lieutenant, was
promoted to lieutenant on 2 September 1819, to captain on 1
January 1820, to lieutenant-colonel on 9 December 1824 and to
colonel on 15 March 1828. Ferguson served in the Battalion of
Rifles of the Guards, in the Staff of the North, the Battalion
Voltigeurs of the Guards and in the Staff of General Simón
Ferguson participated in the campaign of 1819 in the lower Apure
and was present at the action of Camarra. He also saw action in
the campaign of the East against Cumana. He was taken prisoner
by the Spaniards at sea and carried to Puerto Cabello where he
was imprisoned for four months. He embarked on the war schooner
Admiral Brown and was present at a naval action.
Ferguson commanded the troops who landed on the
Puerto Rico. He joined the expedition in Margarita as
aide-de-camp to the commandant general, Colonel Mariano Montilla.
He served in the entire campaign of Río Hacha, was present in
the actions of Fonseca,
San Juan, Molinos, Gurumito,
Moreno and the
general actions of Río Hacha. He served in the campaign of the
Magdalena and was present at the taking of the Fort of Savanilla.
With his company, Ferguson fought and entirely routed the
enemy's vanguard in Pueblo Nuevo.
participated in both surprise attacks at Turbaso and fought for
eight months during the siege of Cartagena.
Ferguson served in the campaign of the South and was present
with his company, the 2nd Rifles, in Bombona. He conducted
several guerrilla campaigns until the surrender of
fought in battles at the bridge of Guaytara, at Taindala,
Tachanguer and Pasto, where he was promoted for bravery. In 1823
he served in the independence wars of Peru at the fortress of
Callao and against Riva Agüero. The following year
took part in the battles of Junín and Ayacucho. With his company
he did duty as a guerrilla fighter with the 3rd in Corpaguaico.
He served in the campaign of Upper Peru against the Spanish
General Hanesta, pursuing the rest of his army until the
surrender of Valdez in Turmusla. He was employed in the
pacification of Cinti and Tarija and he aided the passage of the
battalions Junín and Pichincha through the Cordillera.
Ferguson was decorated with the order of Liberators of
Venezuela, and with the medals of the Liberators of Quito and
Ayacucho. He received the shield, embroidered on the left arm,
Magdalena in the years 1820 and 1821. He also received the order of
Beneméritos de la Patria in
En grado eminente in Peru. He was twice wounded, once in the
campaign of the East in 1819 and again in the taking of Carmen
On the orders
of Simón Bolívar,
carried the Liberator’s constitution to the
of Bolivia. He rode together with Bedford Wilson from
Lima across the
Andes to Chuquisaca (1,800 miles) in nineteen days and did the
return journey in a similar time. In 1827 he was took charge of
providing rations and accommodation to the force at Chuiacota
that was to march from
Ocana to Trujillo. By a subsequent order he took command of the
vanguard of the army that marched on Venezuela against rebel
forces. With only 120 men of the Battalion Paya,
managed to take control of the west of
in the space of two days, the defence of which consisted of four
battalions of regular militia, eight squadrons of cavalry and
four pieces of artillery. He managed to espouse these forces to
the official government cause. By moving on Barquisimeto, which
he took by surprise, the Colonel occupied San Felipe, Nirgua and
Arsure and forced the division which had invaded Barinas to
capitulate. During this campaign in Venezuela he kept a diary, a
Journal from Lima to Caracas, including military and
other details of his journey from Peru to Venezuela.
twentieth-nine year, William Ferguson was on duty at Bogotá as
aide-de-camp to General Bolívar when a plot was hatched against
the General. On 28 September 1828 Ferguson, mistaken by the conspirators for Bolívar, was shot in the
back and mortally wounded while walking down the street. He had
been engaged to the daughter of José Manuel Tatis of
treasurer in Bolívar's army. After his death the people of
Bogotá honoured William Ferguson with a public funeral and
buried his remains in the cathedral - an unusual honour for a
Protestant - and erected a handsome monument which bears a
grateful inscription to 'Colonel Guillermo Fergusson'.
Ferguson, William O., 'Journal from Lima to Caracas, Commencing
September 4th 1826' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin
America 4:2 (March 2006). We are thankful to Susan Wilkinson
of Toronto for sending her copy of this journal for publication. [document]
Hasbrouck, Alfred, Foreign Legionaries in the Liberation of
Spanish South America (New York: Columbia University, 1928).
McGinn, Brian 'St. Patrick's Day in Peru, 1824' in Irish
Roots magazine N° 1 (1995), pp. 26-27. [document]